There is a piece of Cape Town as far from north as it gets. It’s a wild place, full of mountains, kissed with sea salt and spray. It’s called the Deep South. Recently Milton Schorr visited looking for an eco-holiday, and left a changed man.
The Mountain House perches against a slope of fynbos, looking out over the little town of Fish Hoek. In the east False Bay rests like a giant lake. Below and to the west, the Silvermine River Wetland stretches to distant hills.
I arrive on a Thursday evening. Miles is waiting for me, one half of the husband and wife team behind this home. He’s the happiest, most relaxed man I’ve ever met. Soon his wife Carin joins us, and sitting on the deck at sunset we talk.
The house was built in 2007, an extension of Carin and Miles’s home next door, and everything about it is mountain. High ceilings and windows all around let the vistas in. White walls and clean lines raise it up so that it seems to sail above the valley.
“There’s Cape Clawless Otters down in the wetland,” he says, looking out over the water, “there’s Eagle Owls behind here, in the mountain. You might see one.” He winks.
The Mountain House has been Carin and Miles’s adventure and it’s the starting point of my own. Later, alone and happy in my mountain ship, I review my plans.
Of course there’s loads of the normal stuff to do. Surfing, kayaking, fishing, hiking, museums, restaurants, live music, all of that. But I’m looking for something more. An eco-holiday is about connecting to what’s essential, it’s about re-discovery through discovery. That’s what I’m after.
At dawn I drive to the sleepy town of Noordhoek, just around the bend. I have an appointment to ride a beach trail by horseback. I’m excited. I’ve never ridden a horse.
At Sleepy Hollow Horse Riding Nadine Fürst is my host. As she grooms Black Velvet, the gelding that will take me on the trail, we discuss what it is to ride. She tells me about the Therapeutic Riding that they offer, mentioning a child that I’d seen when I arrived.
“He has a problem with talking,” she says. “After his ride he is bubbling with words. His father is always amazed and happy.”
Once a week Sleepy Hollow also hosts classes of children from the nearby Sinethemba School, with the help of South African Riding for the Disabled Association (SARDA). They are taught to care for the horses, understand them and bond. It’s on days when parents are invited that the true value of the connection is felt.
“They are so proud to show their parents what they’ve done,” says Nadine, leading Black Velvet out. “Their parents are afraid of the horses, but the little ones are confident and show them what to do.”
Now it’s my turn. Nadine has explained the how of riding and there’s nothing left to do but do it. Black Velvet is a big, 15 year old boy. He likes to eat, he’ll stop and munch if he can, and he doesn’t like anything out of the ordinary. I learn this as we amble through Noordhoek’s quiet lanes. It’s garbage day and white bin packets are out on the edge of driveways. He avoids them suspiciously, and whinnies when he sees a strange black thing lying on a lawn … a rubber car mat.
‘I thought horses were tough!’ I call to Nadine, riding ahead.
‘Horses are shy, and gentle,’ she replies.
We make our way through the Bush Reserve to the long, white beach. As we walk I’m learning. He and I have to talk, but we don’t have words. His rolling walk becomes mine, what interests him interests me, I can feel him breathe. If I want him to stop I pull gently on the reins, not too hard but hard enough to let him know I’m serious. To go again I need to inhale, gather myself up so that he can feel that I’m ready, and then I need to squeeze his side with my calves. We talk with our bodies, and I get out of my head.
On the beach the breeze becomes fresh, fresher, smells magnify. I feel alive.
Blue Moon Walking
That night a Blue Moon is to rise over the Deep South, a momentous occasion as the next one (I’m told) will only be seen in 2019. Dean Luprini is hosting a hike up a trail in Glencairn, one valley over from the Mountain House. He knows a spot in the hills for the best view of moonrise and he’s sharing it.
These mountains are Dean’s passion. Together with his colleague Ishaqua, a local of direct San heritage, he’s created The Sacred Sites Foundation. Their mission is to have Southern Africa’s many forgotten San caves (and other ancient places) recognised and turned into places of education. The foundation offers local and countrywide journeys to these ancient places, a voyage into the past to connect with the spirit, and with the present.
The hike was advertised on Facebook and by 5.30 pm a group of adventurers are gathered in the Jonkersdam trail parking lot, all smiling, all here to connect. Together we set off into the bush, hurrying to beat the dark.
Soon the full moon rises over False Bay – big, yellow and beautiful. We pass a thermos of tea that Dean brewed from the cotton bush he gathered as we hiked, and listen as he speaks of the moon and her relationship with the earth. We make wishes and send out blessings for a new phase.
“I wish for growing,” I say to these smiling people nestled in the bush. “Growing for all of us.”
We troop down in darkness, a trail of swinging torches. I’ve made new friends. Ulrike, Debbie, David and I picnick in the parking lot. Later we return to the Mountain House for tea. We talk till late.
Out on the M65, just south of the tiny town of Scarborough, is the Shamballah Tea House. It’s a place out of time, perfectly in sync. The venue offers a daily and monthly schedule of yoga, seminars, retreats of all kinds and always a welcome cup of tea. I’m here for a session of Conscious Dance. It’s another first for me. I’m nervous. Conscious Dance I’m wondering, what the hell is it?
Facilitator Dai Heyne smiles when I tell him.
“Preconceived ideas just get in the way,” he says. “Come in, relax, have some tea.”
And so over the next two hours I discover a new hobby. While Dai pumps a range of beats through the meditation hall, I dance beyond not caring, I dance into fun. Like Black Velvet’s pull at the reins, the dance reminds me that my body is my ship in this life, not my thoughts. It’s in my flesh that I feel and in my heart that I live. Thoughts mostly get in the way.
As South As It Gets
The drive through the Cape of Good Hope National Park winds through beauty. It is a World Heritage Site, 7,700 ha of it. Around each bend is a vista more dramatic than the last. One should spend a day here, but I have an hour. Visiting Cape Point is last on my list.
There’s a walk up a zigzagging trail to reach it. Along the way I hear languages from everywhere and see faces from all over. American, Iranian, German, Chinese, Czech, all here to see the end, to know it.
From the top, I see Africa file down to a sliver and dive into the sea. It’s as if she’s alive, this continent, an ancient organism on which we cling. Down there is her beginning, behind, roaring away, all the rest.
It’s the fitting end to an eco-adventure. On this weekend, I discovered new things and I found new pieces of myself.
Grateful thanks to The Mountain House for hosting me, Sleepy Hollow Horse Riding for my journey with Nadine and Black Velvet, to Dean and The Sacred Sites Foundation for his knowledge and passion for the wilds of Southern Africa, and to Dai Heyne and the Shamballah Tea House for the start of a new dancing thing.
Milton Schorr is a writer into all sorts. With a background in theatre he continues to create plays, act, write scripts, stories, features, and travel. His favourite topics are alternative, from Permaculture to Hitchhiking to Mixed Martial Arts. See more of his work on his website or follow him on Twitter.